Barfi! is a wonderful story of a deaf and mute charmer, whose relationships with two different women – one of whom is autistic – bring him into a complex love triangle which can only lead to tragedy.
Let’s be honest with ourselves – in recent times, the films to come out of ‘Bollywood’ haven’t been of the highest quality. With the exception of cinematic gems such as Kahaani, the majority of films released have either been full-on action masala, lukewarm romcoms trying to be the next Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or issue-based dramas which try so hard to push a message down your throat that they forget they’re a film, not a documentary.
So it was a refreshing change to watch Barfi!. Granted, it’s still far from perfect, but offers a very different experience to what most would expect from Indian cinema. That’s not to say it’s fully original – influences from The Artist, Hugo, Wall-E (okay, maybe just the way that Barfi says his name) and particularly European cinema like Amelie are clearly visible – but then what is original these days? Where it succeeds is that director Anurag Basu has solely chosen to be influenced by these films and doesn’t choose to plagiarise stories or rip off scenes word for word – a sin that Indian filmmakers often fall prey to. And what a list of Oscar-winning films to be influenced by!
Ironically, if one could change the language and names of characters and locations, there is no reason why the film couldn’t have been set anywhere in the world, given that the location is rural. But it would have been difficult to find somewhere even half as beautiful on film as 1970s Darjeeling is captured here. Cinematographer Ravi Varman, who has also worked on Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam in the past, is definitely one to look out for, giving the whole film a fairytale-like feel, where the viewer can easily get lost in.
And with the consistently good acting with everyone involved, it’s almost impossible to leave once sucked in. Ranbir Kapoor’s amazing performance as the title character is reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Though he exudes his usual ‘chocolate boy’ charm, he also portrays a great knack for physical comedy and here’s to hoping more similar roles of this ilk come this way.
Priyanka Chopra, with only slightly less to do, could have easily come off as irritating, but she commands the screen as Jhilmil, an autistic girl who few truly understand. It’s a far step away from her usual glamorous roles and the scenes between Jhilmil and Barfi are the ones that bring out the greatest emotions in the film.
Like Taare Zameen Par, Black and My Name Is Khan before it, Barfi! should be congratulated on shining a light on disability, but it truly stands out in being the subtlest of the bunch. Yes, Barfi is deaf and mute, and Jhilmil is autistic, but these disabilities are never pushed into our faces in a sense that we must feel sorry for them. Both Barfi and Jhilmil are painted as three-dimensional characters with both positive and negative attributes. Ileana D’Cruz’s Shruti, the first girl Barfi falls for, is also faced with the greatest choice of all at the end of the film, and the audience is left wondering whether she can truly do such a thing in the name of love. To say anymore would ruin the surprise.
Where Barfi! unfortunately fails is in the editing. The film could have been made much shorter, and though it would have been painful for the director, the film would have benefited from sacrificing some of the beautiful scenes in the name of a leaner story. It may have also been improved if Basu chose to give parallel impetus to both relationships Barfi has with the girls alongside each other – maybe working on the friendship Barfi has with Jhilmil as he goes through his ups and downs with Shruti. Instead, it feels disjointed as one story follows another, following another.
Yet it is the ending of a film that the audience really takes away with them, and here Barfi! passed with flying colours. Few films these days have something to say about love, or at least something new to say. Barfi! is funny, romantic, magical, charming and beautiful* – everything you want in a life partner really. Watch it, and feel fuzzy inside.
* Oh, and it’s really sweet too. Like Barfi. Sorry.